“I think it is a good day to go swimming grandson,” Isaugh told him one morning as they were having breakfast.
“It’s December, Isaugh.The creek is starting to freeze.”
“That’s alright grandson. It is easy to break the ice right now. It wont be too thick at all.Kunshi is going to make us some lunch to take down there for later on.”
He thought that it was crazy that Isaugh wanted to go for a swim now.
He made their fire the way his uncles showed him.
There was not much around outside of an axe for chopping and his dogs looking across the creek to something that was standing in the bush only they could see.
The fire was warm and the snow fell steadily, but gentle, with big flakes. He was sure that he was being watched by something just outside of where he could see but his dogs never barked.
They just laid down and stared into the distance.
Isaugh showed up out of the snow with a blanket wrapped around him. He said: “Your fire looks good…”
“I don’t know grandfather. The water is pretty cold and we might get sick…. The ice can almost hold my weight.”
“That’s the way it is the best,” his grandfather said.
“Diyi asaa?in – we are doing this.”
“Take this axe and start chopping thru the ice until you get up to your chest. That should be deep enough for the both of us.”
The water bit him and he could only go up to his ankles before he looked back and saw his grandfather standing there in his one piece combination underwear smiling at him.
He wanted to cry and said: “Isaugh!!… It hurts too much.”
“Look across the creek and in the bushes,” his grandfather yelled.
“He is watching us. He won’t let you get hurt. Just look at him and keep chopping.”
He was almost in tears but he did what he was told and looked back across the creek. There he saw another man standing in plain sight. But it wasn’t a man. He had the body of the years of a well-lived life.
He was strong and firm in his stance, and had the piercing eyes of a man who expected much of you.
He continued to chop. scared not to make this man’s glare go even deeper than it already was.
Before he knew it he was up to his chest and started to break the ice with his hands until he could barely touch the bottom of the creek.
His grandfather called him back to reality and he turned around to see him just a few paces away laughing like a little boy who just loved the water. They played in the water for about a minute more before his grandfather said, “It’s time to get out. Tell him thank you and don’t look back.”
As they made their way back to the shore the dogs were at the edge wagging their tales and the numbing cold was starting to reach and wrap around both him and his grandfather. The fire looked good and they quickly walked up to it. They threw on more wood.Their bodies were shivering but they were not cold. It was like the shivers of delight after they had done something no one else would think to do.
“Grandson there is something I must tell you – why we did this.”
“It is not to punish you or see how tough you are”.
“Winter demands respect and we must know how to do that. This shows you how much that man over there wants you to know how to survive.”
“In HIS land.”
“You will now know from now on how to dress for the weather and have this fire as your balance to making it when you are far from home.”
“Now you can hunt safely and stay outside overnight if you need to: without worry.”
“Your dogs will always be by your side so treat them well in the winter.”
They sat by the fire all afternoon in their underwear and had lots of food and wild mint tea to drink. Isaugh told him story after story. He had heard them many times before but he always felt like he was hearing them again for the first time. The smell of fire ran through them as the snow stopped and cleared. He watched the sparks fly up into the early evening night. It would be cold tonight as the stars were starting their dance.
The dogs slept and would go chasing a rabbit from time to time.
“When you get older the young people will not know how to survive in the cold and will find themselves in lots of trouble.”
“They will rely on the White man’s knowledge and not ours anymore. Those days are coming”.
“I don’t know what to say to them Isaugh…but you were right.”